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'Wisdom Isn't the Point Tonight': Reactions to the Baltimore Riots

By Brian Byrd | Miscellaneous | April 28, 2015 |

By Brian Byrd | Miscellaneous | April 28, 2015 |

“This was always going to happen,” a young West Baltimore resident said to a CNN reporter as a CVS burned in the background. “I always knew my city was capable of this.”

“I just can’t believe it,” the reporter, Miguel Marquez, said in response. “It’s like another country here.”

Marquez’s words were simultaneously ignorant and correct. Baltimore, despite Tommy Carcetti’s infamous pejorative, isn’t fucking Fallujah.

We’ve seen events like yesterday’s riots stemming from the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray unfold in other American cities this year. Baltimore isn’t special. Nor is it uniquely broken. It shares problems — a majority-white police force overseeing a majority-black city, crippling systemic poverty, rampant abuses of power — with Ferguson, Chicago, New York and many other towns gripped by violent protests in the last 12 months.

Charm City is, however, an undeniably divided municipality. The existence of what longtime Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks calls “the other Baltimore” is apparent to anyone who has spent even a few days in Babe Ruth’s birthplace. For all city’s progress since the 1980s - reducing crime, developing the Inner Harbor into a world-class tourist destination, securing an NFL franchise, revitalizing once-abandoned neighborhoods through the Dollar House Program - its leaders never truly solved Baltimore’s underlying economic issues. Like a teenager throwing his filthy clothes under the bed and pretending the room is clean, police and city officials didn’t so much eliminate poverty and crime as they did relocate it elsewhere. The result is a city where entire areas and their inhabitants are basically written off as ungovernable ghettos despite many existing in close geographic proximity to city gems.

Gray’s Sandtown neighborhood, which sits just two and a half miles from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, has a 58 percent unemployment rate. One third of its houses sit vacant. This dichotomy isn’t rare. Wander East for a few blocks from Sabatino’s restaurant in Little Italy and you might end up outside the Perkins Homes, one of the city’s most notorious housing projects. The lovely Maryland Zoo sits inside Druid Hill Park, which houses cemeteries both licensed and makeshift. West Baltimore is only a few miles from Camden Yards, Ravens Stadium and The National Aquarium — many residents can spot downtown’s gleaming attractions from their rooftops — but it’s a socioeconomic ocean away. Baltimore’s poor can’t even get a job at one of Harbor East’s uber-trendy restaurants, let alone enjoy a meal there. Look, they say. But don’t touch.

Monday, those Baltimores merged in high definition. Buildings and vehicles blazed. Residents destroyed property and attacked police, triggering even more impassioned conversations about how an aggrieved population should appropriately respond to yet another death of one of their own at the hands of police. For many, the images of young urban black men rebelling against slights real or imagined validate long-held preconceptions. Others took solace in the fact that fellow Baltimoreans took to the streets to urge an end to the violence, at times physically restraining protesters from going after police.

My sentiments vary by the hour. They don’t matter, anyway. The above is just context. Writers far more accomplished and skilled than myself have already weighed in with the eloquence and perspective this situation deserves. Their thoughts are below. Digest them.

Baltimore native David Simon

But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.
If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.

Larry Wilmore

West Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose mother was raised in the same housing project where Gray was killed

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.

John Angelos, Orioles Executive Vice President and son of Orioles owner Peter Angelos:

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, an ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

Undue Force,” the investigation by Baltimore Sun reporter Mark Puente that exposes the $5.7 million the city paid in police brutality lawsuits since 2011

The officer, who is not identified in the lawsuit, wanted to go into the basement, but Green demanded a warrant. Her grandson kept two dogs downstairs and she feared they would attack. The officer unhooked the lock, but Green latched it. He shoved Green against the wall. She hit the wooden floor.

“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” Green recalled the officer saying as he stood over her. “He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.”

After pulling Green to her feet, the officer told her she was under arrest. Green complained of pain.

“My neck and shoulder are hurting,” Green told him. “Please take these handcuffs off.”
An African-American officer then walked in the house, saw her sobbing and asked that the handcuffs be removed since Green wasn’t violent.

The cuffs came off, and Green didn’t face any charges. But a broken shoulder tormented her for months.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis

Rioting in our streets is wrong! It’s dead wrong. We have to redefine what this looks like. We need to redefine what building Baltimore looks like. Too many people have put in real sweat, real tears to make this city a better place. I can’t come back home and this is it.

Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks on the “other Baltimore”

There are plenty of people who are hurt today — those who have built businesses, who tried to make the city a better place, who have worked in some of the poorest neighborhoods of the city to improve life there, especially for children and the elderly. But it hasn’t been enough. There’s a critical mass of social problems that have built up across too many years and that were never sufficiently addressed in the aftermath of the last riots. Those of us who have lived here a long time, lived through Baltimore’s struggles, had hoped that the city was headed toward a tipping point — where, once and for all, in some sustainable way, more people would be able to enjoy this growing, thriving city. But here we are. Tipped hard and back the other way.

We’ll end on a funny note

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